First Hive Inspection of the Season


Yesterday was a balmy 64 degrees, warm enough to open up the hive and see what we have, so I fired up my smoker, put on some gear and went inside the hive for a look see.

The hive consists of a deep hive body with a medium on top. (The deep box is about 10 inches deep and a medium is about 6 1/2) Each box contains 10 frames. After removing the top to look inside, down through the frames, I could see a cluster about the size of a softball. Picture three frames with the ball of bees set into the middle of them. I removed the two frames on the end to make room to pull the other frames easily. Bees tolerate a visit fairly well but do not like vibration, which can really set them off. The third frame had a small amount of honey on it and some bees. The fourth frame contained most of the bees and it only took a moment to find the queen. Its more difficult to find the queen when the hive is full of 50 to 60 thousand bees, so it was a delight to find her immediately. She looked healthy and was moving around the edges of a tight ball of bees. She was not marked (small dot of paint on the thorax) so its not likely she is the queen that came with this nuc hive last season.

I was excited to find a small cluster of capped brood and a few larvae. I’m betting it has warmed up enough so she can begin to lay eggs. Once the season gets underway I often find numerous frames, full of capped brood instead of a small patch like this one. Hopefully she is just beginning to crank up the hives numbers.

The remaining frames in the medium super contained honey and pollen, so all seems well and the hive appears healthy. After inspecting the medium super I set it aside to have a look at the deep super underneath. The first four frames were empty. This is where they probably spent much of the winter. The remaining frames are full of honey and one was entirely full of pollen. I also found some empty queen cells and some queen cells that were capped but abandoned. So the theory I am working on here goes like this: The queen that I last saw in this hive was a marked queen. Sometimes the bees interpret a marked queen as weak or inferior, or she simply may have been getting old. When a queen is determined to be weak, she is replaced in a process called supercedure. I remember this hive was very slow to develope, and if it was busy replacing the queen it would not have been growing as fast as the other hives I had. In my last two inspections late last summer/fall I did not find the queen, but I was looking for a marked queen. I believe the old queen was replaced and the hive received a brand new queen sometime late last summer.

Thats exciting! Now I have a young queen to begin the season with. If she was well mated (they need to be bred by at least 17 drones) then this hive now has a young healthy queen that should serve it well for the next couple years.

The next thing we will be watching for is the continued development of brood. Brood is capped larvae. A worker bee begins as an egg and remains in the egg stage for 3 days. It grows into the larvae and remains in that stage about 6 days before the workers cap the cell. It then spends the next 15 days in the pupa form before emerging from the cell as an adult. There are probably only about 1000 to 2000 bees in the hive right now. That gives you an idea of how many eggs the queen must lay to bring the hive up to 50 to 60 thousand bees commonly found in the summer. A healthy queen can lay up to 2500 eggs a day once the weather is warm and she really gets going.

The other thing we will watch for is swarming. Swarming is the natural propogation of the species. When the hive fills with bees and gets crowded, a new queen is raised and when she arrives, the old queen leaves the hive and takes about half of the workers with her. They will look for a new home to establish a new hive. As a beekeeper this is not very helpful. After a swarm the hive will spend the season working to get its numbers back up so it can lay in the stores it needs for winter. Its not very often you get honey from a hive that has swarmed, at least in our high elevation, short summers here in Central Oregon.

To combat the instinct to swarm you create more space in the hive. Since the bottom deep is mostly full of honey and the medium super only has two or three frames for the bees to work, she will rapidly fill them once she gets serious about laying brood. Without more room the hive will start making plans to swarm. What I did yesterday was to add another medium super on top. This will give them room to expand when they are ready, which is exactly what I want them to do because I want to split this hive later in the season. A split prevents swarming and gives me a new hive. I likely wont get honey from this hive after doing so, but I do get a new hive from it which is worth more than the honey. But splitting the hive is down the road, likely not possible until May, depending on the weather.

For now all is well and I look forward to seeing lots of brood in this hive the next time I have a look inside.
If you have questions please feel free to post them here.


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